Scientists at Japan’s NTT Basic Research Laboratories say they have created a device that acts in the same way as a laser emits beams of light, except with sound waves. But to the joy of Star Trek fans around the world, the scientists are calling this device a “phaser.”
While laser beam technology has trickled down into consumer hands as little more than laser pointers, the scientists have higher hopes for their phasers than to be used as pointers for slideshow presentations. They mention that the technology could hopefully improve the medicine, electronics, and search sectors, for example providing better ultrasound imaging and more accurate measuring within the electrical engineering field.
The sound phaser is constructed in a very similar way to a laser. A laser emits light particles, or photons, at the same wavelengths in order to create a beam. The NTT laboratory discovered a way to emit sound particles, or in this case phonons, in the same way, thus creating a “beam” of sound. Unfortunately there is one big problem: the sound beam is unable to travel away from its origin. While a beam of light can travel through the air, sound needs a medium to order to travel. Another example would be a tuning fork that needs to vibrate in order for its sound wave to be heard. The scientists say they are looking into a way to allow the sound beam to leave its origin, but for now it can only remain inside the device. Which means it will still be some time before you can pretend to have phaser shootouts with Captain Kirk and Spock.